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Father Figures

In honour of Father's Day on June 20, we delve into the best recent non-fiction and fiction about the everyday heroes known as dad / BY Sue Grimbly / June 10th, 2021

It’s Father’s Day on June 20, but it’s not all golf and breakfast sandwiches these days. Through a series of acutely observed memoirs and moving fiction, we witness the deep love and complicated emotions of being – or loving – a father.

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1Little VictoriesYvon Roy

This Montreal-based comic-book artist’s 2017 semi-autobiographical novel, translated for the first time into English, is about a man named Mark whose world goes dark when his son, Oliver, is diagnosed with autism. The three panels where the boy’s parents split up are accompanied by Roy’s drawings of Mark’s skinny frame topped by an oversized raven’s head that screeches at his wife when she tries to comfort him. Once Mark accepts his son’s differences, he gets on with loving the boy and figuring out how to connect. Mark banishes Oliver’s fear of dust bunnies and, on a camping trip, is able to embrace his son for the first time. “I’m so happy I could cry with joy,” Roy writes of a moment so many parents take for granted. Mark works slowly and methodically to teach his son to self soothe, how to count and to be himself in an alien world.

2Care OfIvan Coyote

During lockdown, Whitehorse author and spoken-word performer Ivan Coyote started addressing the backlog of letters they had received while touring. Care Of: Letters, Connections, and Cures combines the most powerful of those letters with Coyote’s responses, always written with a generous heart and a quick wit. In Quill & Quire, Coyote said: “It’s all the grand topics, like addictions and longing. And missing, remembering, and honouring eldership.” The chapter called “Our Fathers” is particularly searing, with followers pouring their hearts out about their love for their often terribly troubled dads. Nevertheless, the letters become an affirming and joyous reflection on compassion, family fragility, non-binary and trans identity, and a giant love letter to human connection. (June 8)

3Dad Up!Steve Patterson

From the comedian and host of CBC Radio’s “The Debaters” comes a funny, poignant and unexpectedly wise look at what it means to be a dad. Steve Patterson chronicles the disappointment when his wife fails to get pregnant, only to have the miracle conception take place in Regina during Grey Cup Week. Once in full dad-mode, he riffs on the biohazard that is changing a diaper, the absolute futility of stuffed animals, and how growing up a little boy in no way prepares him for parenting little girls. Dad Up! charts the awesome experience of watching tiny infants that you somehow had a hand in creating evolve into confident and crafty little people, and the lessons that they teach along the way.

4All the Colors Came OutKate Fagan

Sports journalist Kate Fagan and her father forged their relationship on the basketball court, bonded by a dedication to the New York Knicks. But as Kate got older, the inseparable pair drifted apart. When Chris Fagan was diagnosed with ALS, Fagan left her high-profile job at ESPN to take part in his care, determined to return to him the joy they once shared on the court. Studded with unforgettable scenes of humour, pain and hope, All the Colors Came Out – the title is a line from the U2 song, “Beautiful Day” – plumbs the mysteries of father-daughter relationships.

5Likeness David Macfarlane

William Blakely Macfarlane was 29 when he died in January 2018 after enduring four and a half years with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The vibrant young man’s illness and death are the shattered heart of David Macfarlane’s beautifully wrought new memoir Likeness: Fathers, Sons, a Portrait. The framing device is a 2014 oil portrait of Macfarlane standing in front of the house where he grew up in Hamilton, Ont., by Canadian artist John Hartman. Using the painting as a jumping-off point to his relationship with his son and his own taciturn dad (who passed away in 2010), Macfarlane movingly and unnervingly reflects on the ebb and flow of male family connections.


6Measuring UpDan Robson

Robson never learned the blue-collar skills he so admired in his father, Rick, a builder. When Rick dies, at 59, from complications of a stroke, Dan’s acknowledgment of his father’s sacrifices – and the longing to be close to him again – draw him to the unused tools in the garage. So begins the Toronto sports writer’s year learning the mysteries of plumbing, carpentry, wiring and dry walling as he renovates his parents’ Toronto home. According to a review in Publisher’s Weekly: “As he works away at the project, he unspools fond recollections of their time together, writing about his father taking him to hockey practice as a boy in the ’90s, the ‘dadest of dad jokes,’ and the huge impact his father made on others.”

7Brown BabyNikesh Shukla

British screenwriter Nikesh Shukla explores themes of racism, feminism, parenting and our shifting ideas of home. According to Sukhdev Sandhu, writing in The Guardian newspaper, Brown Baby is addressed to “Shukla’s five-year-old daughter, Ganga, whose name comes from the Indian river in which he scattered his mother’s ashes.” The memoir discusses, “sometimes with humour, sometimes with rage” what kind of world a mixed-race child is entering. And, as a “Feminist Woke Dad,” he is learning what life is really like for women. This memoir – sad, funny and intensely relatable – is dedicated to both the author’s young daughters. Through love, grief, food and fatherhood, Shukla shows it’s possible to believe in hope.


8The Good FatherWayne Grady

When Harry Bowes, former college teacher turned wine merchant, is ghosted by his daughter Daphne, he assumes it’s because there’s something wrong with her, probably drugs. Teenager Daphne is certain there’s something wrong with her dad, insisting she doesn’t want to talk to him. Every story has two sides. Ultimately, she comes home from Vancouver to dry out, holing up in her dad’s basement and writing out her thoughts in a journal. Harry must come to terms with his abandonment of Daphne and her mother when she was 10, and his male point of view. Told in alternating perspectives, this tragicomedy from the award-winning Canadian author of Emancipation Day explores misunderstanding and, yes, their ultimate reconnection.

9AbundanceJakob Guanzon

Evicted from their trailer on New Year’s Day, Henry and his son, Junior, are reduced to living out of a pickup truck. Then things get worse. In an ingenious structural approach, Abundance is organized by the amount of cash in Henry’s pocket (each chapter starts with debit and credit). Set among big-box stores and fast food joints, this incandescent debut trawls the fluorescent aisles of Walmart and the booths of Red Lobster to reveal the anxieties around work, debt and addiction in America today. One reviewer called this debut novel from the American writer “tender, anxious, angry, and beautiful.”


10How to Order the Universe María José Ferrada

For seven-year-old M, the world is guided by principles based on her father D’s life as a travelling salesman. Enchanted by her father’s trade, M convinces him to take her along, selling hardware supplies against the backdrop of Pinochet-era Chile. As they trek from town to town in their old Renault, M’s thoughts become tied to a language of rural commerce, philosophy, the cosmos, hardware products and ghosts. “Ferrada expertly captures a vanishing way of life and a father-daughter relationship on the brink of irreversible change,” according to the publisher, TinHouse. This book from the award-winning Chilean author is “nostalgic, dangerous, sharply funny, and full of delight and wonder.”


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